Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a powerful and beautifully written story about love. Love among siblings; the tremendously misplaced love of 15-year-old Esch (the narrator) for Manny (the father of her unborn child); the love of a man for his lost wife; the love of children for their lost Mama; and the all-consuming love between a largely abandoned boy and his dog.
The setting is the home of a very poor family in rural Mississippi in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. Ward structures the book like a diary with each day having an entry. The language is often poetic, even when describing some very brutal events. The story is told from Esch's point of view. Esch has been reading Greek mythology (her summer reading assignment from school) and sees parallels between her world and her reading (isn't that the point of reading?) which give the novel more heft than it would have otherwise. It also increases the anxiety level, which is plenty high already with what the reader knows is coming to the Gulf Coast as Katrina bears down on them. As I read there were a lot of parts where I thought I knew what was about to happen and didn't want to "watch." The pacing of the writing was so pitch perfect that I couldn't look away. The ending is what it needed to be. (Spoiler alert--it is for the most part a happy ending.)
This is Ward's second novel, she published Where the Line Bleeds in 2006. Salvage the Bones won the 2011 National Book Award.